Is My Classic Car Worth Restoring

1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe
1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe. Photo by Mark Gittelman

Once in a while I get an email with a few pictures attached of a classic car that's seen better days. They want to know if I think the automobile is worth restoring. This is a straightforward question with an extremely complicated answer. Unfortunately, a few pictures will not provide enough hard evidence to supply a yes or no answer.

In this article we'll lay the groundwork for evaluating the situation on a case-by-case basis.

Throughout the post I will reference the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe pictured to the left. This automobile is considered desirable, valuable and collectible. However, the owner has decided to hold off on a complete restoration, because it would require an investment way beyond the vehicle's total value.

Attaching a Price to the Automobile

Many consider this the fun part of the process. In order to gauge how much we can spend on a full restoration it's a good idea to find out what the car will be worth when it's finished. It's recommended to become an expert on that particular automobile to assure the accuracy of your price evaluation. We provide a detailed list of things to consider during the evaluation for your convenience.

Since we don't know how well the restoration will turn out it's nice to get three numbers during the research process. First we'll secure the highest number by seeking out the most expensive sold example of the same exact automobile.

It's recommended to not go too far back in time as classic car values have surged forward and pulled back in the last decade.

In the case of the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, we grabbed the highest number by reviewing auction results from Bonhams Auction House and RM Sothebys auctions. We found a good middle of the road number by averaging exact models listed on the Hemmings Classic Car Marketplace.

For the bottom of the barrel number we found some automobiles in average condition on favorite Internet sources like BringTrailer.com and eBay.

Evaluating the Condition of the Classic Car

This is where things get tough. It takes a lot of time and effort to uncover the dark secrets of an automobile. However, it's this step that can prevent a restoration project from going way over budget. In the end it might be necessary to call in experts to evaluate expensive automotive systems like engines and transmissions. This can be money well spent.

Another important item to get right is the true condition of the body and frame. You need to stand in the truth of how much original metal is actually left on the vehicle. You can read more about this subject and see what it takes to remove all the rust from a classic car. We also have a detailed classic car evaluation guide that provides a list of items inspected by car show judges. This list can help keep you on track and prevent you from missing important items.

Making a Parts List

Next we'll have to create a list of parts that need replacing during the restoration process. These lists can get extremely long. People often miss things like complete weather-stripping kits and rubber parts.

Going back to the Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, the car is missing all of the glass components. In researching replacement costs the results were surprising. The missing rear window was available for around $150. However, the side glass and vent windows cost much more.

Attempting to Estimate Labor Costs

As mentioned above it's common for a restoration to go way over budget. Often it's the labor cost that's underestimated the most. Some shops are known for providing low ball estimates to secure the project. This isn't as critical if you're performing all of the labor yourself. Nevertheless, when you are seeking outside labor estimates it's a good idea to pad the final number. You'll be much happier if the job comes in under budget than over.

You also want to ask service providers questions about what happens when unexpected problems are uncovered or the budget is exceeded.

Many companies will provide reduced labor rates when the original estimate proves to be inaccurate. To prevent your restoration project from running aground seek input from automotive restoration experts. Their model specific knowledge can help mitigate risk.

Know When to Walk Away

If you add up parts and labor and the total exceeds the value of the classic car it might be time to walk away. However, there may be exceptions to this rule of thumb. If an automobile has documented provenance, it could add to the value and increase its desirability as an investment. For example, if Steve McQueen used the car to go food shopping, it could be worth more.

In the case of the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, the estimate exceeded the value. Further complications included a seized engine that wasn’t factory installed and heavy frame rot. Read this next article about the XK line of British Sports Cars to learn more about these classic Jaguars.